Skip to main content

Full text of "Alexander von Humboldt"

See other formats


220                               LIFE   OF
the ditch, could HumLoldt and his friends form any
idea of this mode of fishing.    The noise occasioned by
the stamping of the horses, drives the eels out of the
slime, and irritates them ; they swim on the surface
of the water, and press themselves against the belly
of the mules and horses-     A strange  combat  now
begins; the Indians, provided with long thin bamboo
canes, encircle the ditch: some climb the trees, whose
branches extend horizontally over the water.    By wild
screams and threats with their long canes, they pre-
vent the  horses coming ashore  and  escaping.     The
eels, terrified by the noise, defend themselves by the
repeated discharge of their electric forces.     It seems,
for a time, as if they would cany off the victory over
the horses, for many of the latter succumb to the force
of the invisible electric blows, which the eels give on
the belly, the most sensitive part, and they sink below
the surface, overcome by the qxiantity and violence of
the shocks.    "With bristling mane, snorting, with wild
terror in their sparkling eyes, some horses rise again,
and endeavour to escape, but the Indians drive them
back, and but few  escape'the eyes of the watchful
guards.    If such an one, escaping from the shocks of
the  electric eels, reaches the  land, it falls at  every
step, and sinks down on the sand, faint and exhausted.
In the first five minutes two horses were already
drowned.    The eel, which is five feet long, presses
against the belly of the horses, and discharges its elec-
tricity along its whole length, which stuns the  abdo-
men,  entrails, and heart of the horse.      The horse
sinks down exhausted, and is drowned, because the
continuing struggle of the eels with the other horses
prevents its rising again.
Humboldt was already anticipating that this fishing
would end in the death of all the horses, when the
violence of the unequal struggle gradually abated,
and the exhausted electric eels dispersed; for they
require long rest and abundant nourishment to regain
the strength spent bythe frequent discharge of their elec-
tric organs. The horses and mules recovered from